Archive for the ‘Starter’ Category

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Beans, glorious beans!

August 10, 2009

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I love, love, love green beans. Their snap. Their crunch. Their verdant, subtle sweetness. (The only form of green bean I can’t stand is, honestly, the canned variety. Such sadly abused beans make me sigh, not swallow.)

So when the husband concocted a salad that starred one of my favorite vegetables, I insisted that he make it again. And again. And again. This green bean salad elevates the slender green minxes to new heights. It features a tangy, sweet, light dressing that makes all the green bean’s best qualities stand out in relief. Think you’ve got some fresh, tender, delectable green beans from the grocery store? They’ll be even more mouthwatering when lightly dressed with this precocious concoction, and made lovely with a smattering of sweet, acidic grape tomatoes.

Doesn’t the humble green bean deserve some star treatment? (Especially after years of abuse at the hands of bean canners and cafeteria ladies?) I should say so.

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And now, the husband’s take…

This salad was really just an idea I whipped together. Now, it’s become a staple and a frequent demand from the wife. A couple of months ago we were visiting family, and I decided to throw together a barbecue as a quick way to feed a good number of people. I found some great green beans and wanted to serve them cold, but needed a dressing. A few minutes later I put this together, and was surprised to hear the very satisfied, “Mmmms…” and “Can I have this recipe?” requests that started coming my way.

Of course, I hadn’t a clue at first what “exactly” I had done. I had made it thinking I wanted a sorta-vinagrette for the salad… but nothing too tangy, watery, or sweet so that the beans and tomatoes were still the focus. Once again, it took insistence by the wife to have me sit down, think about it, write it down and then of course make it “bloggable.”

A few notes about the recipe. First, when I originally made it, I had yellow wax beans in as well. I would have loved to have put them in this version and in the photos; I think they add a great variety in presentation and texture. However — and I don’t know why because they seemed pretty ubiquitous growing up in the Midwest — I cannot seem to find them easily in Northern Virginia. My family in North Carolina says they don’t see them much either. (So, bean farmers, what’s the deal?) Anyway, I’d recommend them if you can get them. Just use equal parts green beans and yellow wax beans.

Second — and this is crucial — you want the beans to be “al dente.” This salad is all about crunch. Better to slightly undercook the beans than overcook them. Therefore, it’s important to pull them from the boiling water and shock them in the ice bath or under cold running water. If you lose that satisfying crunch, I’m not sure even a good dressing makes it worth the effort.

Third, the recipe below produces at least twice as much dressing as you need. I simply keep the rest handy for people to add extra themselves or for a quick version later (currently, I’ve a batch sitting in the fridge in an old Dijon mustard jar). But, with all that extra dressing, use it sparingly. When I overdressed it once, I really felt the green beans and the tomatoes became lifeless and worthless. So, use a careful hand when preparing.

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Green Bean Salad with Dijon Dressing
Ingredients:
2 lbs. green beans
1 cup grape tomatoes (quartered)

Dressing:
¼ cup dark brown sugar
¼ cup Dijon mustard
¼ cup sherry vinegar
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. fresh ground black pepper

Directions:
1. Bring to a boil a large pot of well-salted water (it should taste like the ocean).

2. Prepare an ice bath of equal parts ice and water.

3. Trim the ends off the green beans and then cook them in the boiling water for 2 minutes. Transfer to the ice bath. Once the green beans are cool, drain and allow them to air dry.

4. Whisk together the ingredients in the dressing and set aside. Note: The dressing should be just slightly salty. This allows the whole salad to be well dressed.

5. In a large bowl, toss together the beans, tomatoes and dressing. Move to a serving dish and enjoy. Note: In dressing the salad, I typically put very little on the beans, but most along the sides of the bowl and toss the beans to coat. This recipe likely makes enough dressing for twice the number of the beans, but I always make extra and it keeps very well.

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They’re dynamite, Napoleon: Gosh-darned chicken quesadillas

May 14, 2007

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It’s that time of year, and he’s been at the grill again. As far as I can tell, there has been only one instance when the husband inadvertantly left that gas-powered fire hazard on — and he beat me to the chore of turning it off, glaring at me menacingly as he did so. (Is it wrong to be a nag about an item that can burn your house down? I think not.)

You might think, then, that I would discourage firing up the barbie for an item like chicken quesadillas, which can be safely made indoors and without the risk of sirens. Well, think again.

These quesadillas rock because of the sooty flames licking their crisp skins. They rock because of the sear marks on the juicy chicken inside. They rock because they are crunchy and fresh and… well, grilled.

As you know, I am a huge fan of eating and of my husband’s cooking. Plus, I love any items that are chock-full of fresh ingredients — here, it’s salsa and avocado. (Yes, please!) Therefore, I yield to the siren song of these delicious chicken quesadillas and throw caution to the wind. When the husband volunteers to make these chicken quesadillas, I turn on the grill.

(And, of course, make sure it’s turned off again, too.)

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Click here to download the recipe for Chicken Quesadillas.

Backgrounder…
So, OK, not the most original recipe. But this is one that I’ve used a number of times in recent weeks with excellent success. You can serve these quesadillas as a meal or an appetizer. And let’s be honest: It’s starting to get hot out and it’s grilling season… So “Knock it off Napoleon, and make yourself a dang Ques-a-dilla!” (For those who have used their lives more efficiently than I have, that quote is from Napoleon Dynamite, a movie that I’ve grown to appreciate.)

Now that I’ve convinced you to make yourself a quesadilla, here are the keys to it. First, keep everything fresh. I know the temptation in life is to take that jar of salsa from New York City and mix it in, but it’s not worth it. Everything is coming into season now and you’ll be able to taste it in every bite.

Second, the wet rub is king in this recipe. In the last post I talked about a dry rub on the ribs. (I love dry rubs, too.) But this is a dish you want to turn out on the fly, like when you are exhausted by a 2-month-old and don’t want to order out for the third night in a row. So the wet rub — here very spicy — gives you a lot of kick, without taking hours to create flavors.

Finally, the grill is magic. Even my gas-powered grill can make all the difference in flavors. You can toast the quesadillas or broil them for likely the same level of doneness, but the grill marks and flavors brought on by sitting on those grates will make you crave this dish. If you can, grill. You will be rewarded.

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Chicken Quesadilla
Yield: 24 servings if hors doerves, 6 for main course
Time: 40 min

Ingredients:
1 dozen 4-inch flour tortillas
2 large chicken breasts (about 1 lb.)
2 cups cheddar, Monterey jack or similar cheese
1 avocado (diced)

Wet Rub:
1 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. fresh cilantro (chopped)
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. red pepper flake
1/4 tsp. chipotle chili powder
juice of 1 lime

Salsa:
1 medium onion (diced)
1 pint cherry tomatoes (diced)
1/2 cup fresh cilantro (chopped)
2 jalapeños (finely diced)
4 cloves garlic (minced)
1 lime (juice)
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Directions:
1. This recipe uses direct heat while cooking over a grill. If using a gas grill, set to medium high heat. If using charcoal, over the coals will work.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the wet rub. Pat dry the chicken breasts and dredge them through the rub. Both sides should be well coated.

3. Place the chicken on the grill and cook for 4 to 5 min per side with the grill lid on or until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165-170F. Remove from the heat and let rest for at least 5 min, preferably longer. Once cooled, cut the breasts into half-inch or smaller cubes. Do not turn off the grill or snuff the flames once cooking is complete. You will be returning to the grill later.

4. While the chicken is grilling, mix together the salsa in a large bowl. Be careful with the jalapenos — if you are not inclined to spicy food, modify. Take a third of the salsa and set aside to serve along with the finished product. Add the diced avocado and cubed chicken to the remaining two-thirds of the salsa. At this point, if you are preparing for a party, you can stop. Simply cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. It’s important that you press the plastic wrap down against the mix, to prevent the avocado from oxidizing and turning brown, as apples do.

6. If your tortillas are refrigerated, remove from fridge and allow to warm to room temperature or until easily pliable. Once ready, take about two tablespoons of your chicken mix, and place it on one side of the tortilla. Add a healthy pinch of cheese and then fold the tortilla over in half. If necessary, press along the seam to keep the tortilla closed.

7. Time for the finishing touches. Place the filled tortillas on the grill. Toast them on both sides for about 2 min per side or until the tortilla becomes crisp and the edges begin to darken. Once cooked, remove from heat and let rest for at 2 minutes to allow the cheese to solidify slightly. Slice in half and serve with the remaining salsa, plus other condiments of choice such as guacamole and sour cream.

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Then we ate a little lamb… and tried to catch some zzs.

April 5, 2007

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There’s no need to count sheep with a newborn in your house. When I have a few moments to catch some zzs, I don’t need a winding down ritual… My eyes snap shut and I’m sawing wood within seconds. (And let me just say, the expression “sleeping like a baby” is a gross mischaracterization of newborn sleep patterns.)

So I’m not counting sheep… but that hasn’t stopped me from eating one. Er, sort of. A lamb is a sheep, right? (I’m too tired to look it up, so just go with me on this riff.) The point is: In between infrequent naps, I’ve been chowing on some lamb.

Generally speaking, I prefer my lamb in kabob or gyro form. But my husband, of course, has conspired once again to widen my horizons. His lamb is succulent and delectable, and while flavorful, it isn’t buried in the spices that sometimes mask the lamb flavor in gyros or kabob dishes. And in this case, that’s a good thing. The lamb sustains its unique character, but takes on subtle seasoning from my husband’s yogurt marinade and a wonderful, smokey char from the grill.

And now, at last, I can welcome my husband’s experimental cooking once again. That’s right: Many of the ol’ pregnancy dietary restrictions have been lifted! I’m back on sweets again. So, as much as I know you’ll enjoy this lamb dish, I think our dear readers should clamor for more sweets. Am I right? I’m right, aren’t I?

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It may not be pretty, but it’s pretty tasty: Bacon-wrapped monkfish with mushrooms

March 2, 2007

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Let’s see… Ingredients: Delicious lobster-like fish, thin slices of bacon, mushrooms lovingly sautéed in butter and a light lemony butter sauce to finish.

I think we have a winner, folks.

My husband can’t go wrong wrapping things in bacon and putting them on a bed of mushrooms. In fact, I might eat just about anything prepared that way. (Old shoes, dish towels…)

Don’t believe me? Consider the monkfish, this post’s bacon-wrapped, mushroom-topped offering.

Yes, monkfish tastes very good. It’s firm and not fishy, and its flesh carries a subtle sweetness – I’ve heard it described as a poor man’s lobster. So, yes, eating monkfish was not like eating an old shoe. It married well with the earthy and fragrant mushrooms, it absorbed the maple-saltiness of the bacon, and the slightly lemony butter sauce made the whole thing lip-smackingly good.

So, you folks are saying: What’s the problem? Why are you so brave for eating monkfish?

True, monkfish is a fairly benign looking filet when you confront it in your supermarket. There’s some homely gray fish skin and some vein-y white flesh, but nothing to send you screaming in horror. That is, until you encounter the actual monkfish. Whole. On the Internet. Its giant gaping mouth. Its rows of pointy teeth. Its distended, bag-like stomach. Its nasty little angler antennae. My reaction: “THAT is what I ate?”

Now, this horrified response is coming from a Blue Planet lover (the best freakin’ show on cable TV). I love sea creatures, even the ugly ones. It’s just a little much to realize that I just ate the elephant man of the ocean. (I warn you: Click at your own risk.)

Before the bile rises to your throat, consider: I ate that monkfish. And it was damn good. If you start to lose your nerve, remember – it’s going to be wrapped in bacon, sitting on mushrooms and doused with a lemony butter sauce. How bad can it be? I’ll tell you: Not bad at all, friends. Not bad at all. Now, that old shoe on the other hand…

Click here to download the recipe for Bacon Wrapped Monk Fish.

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Ringing in the Year of the Pig with Crab Rangoon and other old favorites.

February 18, 2007

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Happy New Year! (Any excuse for revelry is OK by us – especially if you can wish folks a happy new year twice within months.) For the Chinese, and many other Asian cultures, today is the first day of the lunar calendar. In some parts of the world, this occasion will be met with great fanfare and festivity. Personally, we feasted on Peking Duck with friends last night. And this morning, we offer some more festive dishes: A few old favorites and a new one, Crab Rangoon.

OK, we admit it, crab rangoon is not a traditional dish. It’s likely unrecognizable to any devotee to Chinese food. Like meatballs to Italian-Americans, crab rangoon is a derivative dish that probably seeks to satisfy American palettes more than others (um, cream cheese, anyone?). And we further bastardized it by putting a spicy twist on it.

So why choose an inauthentic dish on this day? Because it’s a crowd pleaser – and if you don’t have crowds to please today, you may tomorrow or perhaps next Thursday. If you are looking for other dishes to make to celebrate the day, or at least add a bit of Asian flavor to your table, we also offer you a trio of our favorite old recipes.

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Sui Mai: This is a classic dim sum dish and Wife’s favorite. They’re dumplings filled with pork and shrimp.

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Potstickers: A family favorite filled with the intense flavors of beef, ginger and soy.

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Char Sui Bao: Our take on another classic dim sum dish. Filled with sweet pork swaddled in steamed bread, it’s truly delicious.

Click here to download the recipe for Crab Rangoon.

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Oh, how we are dreaming of summer… but until then there is Lobster and Beer Risotto.

February 8, 2007

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Risotto seems like it would be a humble food. It’s big, fat morsels of creamy rice stewed lovingly over some cooktop with a wooden spoon. But because it has a high-fallutin’ Italian name, it strikes me (and a lot of other diners) as a bit fancier than a mere side dish … This is why restaurants can get away with serving you a big bowl of risotto (um, that would be rice) as your entree.

Well, folks, if risotto is rice dressed up for a night on the town, my husband has just stuffed a wad of cash into its pockets and told it not to return before dawn.

Yes, those tell-tale red morsels of succelent sweet meat resting in the mounds of creamy risotto are indeed lobster. And that creamy and delicious sauce is made up of cheese, and yes, booze. Beer, to be precise. And then there’s a dollop of honey — just for sweetness.

Sound rich? Sound decadent? Sound delicious? Grab your fork… there’s no curfew tonight.

Click here to download the recipe for Lobster & Beer Risotto.

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It’s paradise, mon: Seared scallops with meyer lemon vinaigrette

January 29, 2007

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Afraid of seafood, perhaps? Leery of a fishy smell and a strange, spongy texture? Fear not, friends. This scallop dish is here to seduce you.

Just as The Perfect Storm might have turned you off from seafaring, seared scallops with meyer lemon vinaigrette is the postcard from the Caribbean that will lure you back. It’s delicate and sweet. It tastes fresh and green and citrus-y… a surprising breath of spring in the midst of 20 degree weather here. Ahhh.

Tempting, right? Can’t you just picture curling up your toes in that white sand as warm blue waters lap at your feet? Don’t you just want to fork that scallop in?

This dish is successful for its alluring simplicity: It’s beautiful, and there isn’t much to it. A nest of fresh greens, sprinkled lightly with a lemony, zesty vinaigrette. One or two simply seared scallops, sweet and tender — perfectly seasoned — resting on top. There aren’t flavors at war or strong tastes to assault your mouth… it all tastes natural, fresh and delicious.

Come on now. Open wide. I’ll strike up the calypso band.

Click here to download the recipe for Seared Scallops w/ Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette.

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